In a previous post, I already told you how you can get a free, fully legit copy of Windows Server 2008 R2 directly from Microsoft if you are a student in pretty much any renown college or university. However, I understand that it is not exactly practical for anybody to run an unaltered server OS, as there are generally quite a couple of components missing for everyday use.
However, as I also quickly mentioned in a previous post, there is a way to convert your server installation to a full fledged desktop version, as detailed on this website dedicated to detail how it`s done. This post won't walk you through what this website showcases already rather clearly, it is rather an overview of how I got my installation up and running, and what little tweaks I applied to it in order to make it friendlier for everyday use.
For the non tech savvy, don't fret: the conversion takes about 30 minutes of your time for the average user with a basic understand of how Windows Works (that's what it took me including the multiple required reboots), and if your computer knowledge is minimal it might end up taking you an hour, maximum. The process is almost entirely done using Windows dialogs, so there isn't any sketchy DLL replacement or whatever to brick your new install.
First off, installation. All went smooth, just your regular run of the mill Windows install, with graphical install. I chose to install the "Standard" version of the OS as I wanted to be sure that additional server components wouldn't be installed on my machine, but you could also have installed "Enterprise" had you wanted. Here is what the install looked like on first login, without any customization whatsoever.
Pretty barebones, although you do recognize the new, HUGE, Windows 7 style taskbar buttons. From then on, it was just a matter of installing the Desktop Experience package and getting rid of all the nasty server stuff, as detailed on the guide, and I ended up with this:
Sexy. However at this point I pretty much had the stock Windows 7 interface, and as everybody knows, stock sucks. So I went right ahead and put it to my liking: I flipped the task bar up to the top as I have always done it, steamlined my taskbar by enabling small icons, removing those pesky Windows icons and quicklaunch toolbar and grabbed a cool seasonal wallpaper from Interfacelift. I also installed my trusty Rocketdock, onto which I put some custom icons for the Adobe software, the Flickr Uploadr, as well as both the My Computer and Trash icons. The end result?
Add your drivers, software and gizmos, and it is indistinguishable from a Win7 install, both from an aesthetic and from a function point of view. I will never rave enough on Windows 7; having used all versions of graphical Windows with the exception of 3.1, I can without a doubt confirm that this is by far the most stable, quickest, and most user friendly version of Windows up to now. If you haven't gotten your free copy yet, do so now, and if you decided not to... well you're really missing out on something great.